Books (somewhat) Related to Happiness Read in 2023 with Summaries and Recs
In this resource, I’ll give a rundown of books read this year. I’ll try to share right off the rip if it’s even worth you reading the summary. I’ll bullet point lessons from each one. Consider this a reference to pick and choose from.
The Myth of Normal by Gabor Mate
READ IF - You’re interested in a super in depth analysis of how psychologically f**ked our modern situation is (with a few chapters at the end on what to do about it).
Dr. Gabor Mate is an MD specializing in addiction and healing of trauma. He explains what we’ve grown accustomed to as “normal” RE: cultural, economic, political, technological, and physical conditions — are actually profoundly abnormal. The mind-body system is inseparable from the broader systems we inhabit. The proliferation of unhealthy mind-body responses is actually an appropriate response to toxic conditions.
Our modern child birthing norms evolved out of the industrialization and profit maximization of the medical system. The standard care serves to traumatize women and infants more than benefit them. He cites data to show how this natural process has been overly medicalized — search “C section overuse”.
Trauma is essentially scar tissue of the nervous system. A damaging event leads to inflexibility and numbness just as a physical injury would.
ADHD is more of a cognitive pattern than a “disease”. When we feel an overwhelming emotion at a young age that we cannot fight against or run away from, we default to tuning out. This tuning out pattern becomes subconscious and later in life, when we are averse to a task we may “tune out” unintentionally.
Our society generates chronic mental stress which is passed into the body through the HPA axis. This manifests in chronic physical disorders — all of which are on the rise. There is clear scientific data that our modern world is wreaking havoc on mental and physical health.
Addiction is a solution (albeit a poor one) to feeling disengaged from yourself. When something in you is cut off from feeling whole, some chemical or behavior makes you feel right again. Addiction is usually a coping mechanism for repression or depression from unprocessed traumas.
“The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.” — Erich Fromm, The Sane Society
Brain Energy: A Revolutionary Breakthrough in Understanding Mental Health — and Improving Treatment for Anxiety, Depression, OCD, PTSD, and More by Chris Palmer MD
READ IF you want a fairly technical scientific understanding of mental illness (perhaps if you or a close person has one).
All mental disorders are metabolic disorders. The brain, for it’s small weight, uses a disproportionate amount of energy. The common pathway for all mental illnesses (minor to severe) is metabolic dysfunction. Treatments to restore mental health should focus on metabolic factors like diet, exercise, stress level, etc.
Our treatment of mental disorders right now essentially follows this logic: I had a headache, so I took ibuprofen and felt better. That means I must have ibuprofen deficiency disorder. If I just take an ibuprofen every day then I will feel better. Well clearly the real issue is not a lack of ibuprofen - there is something more to the picture.
(Insert name of mental disorder) is just a “chemical imbalance” in the brain… Okay, well why the chemical imbalance? That’s the question!
Mental disorders are the most common cause of disability on the planet. And our current treatment models don’t work very well. For example, despite dozens of antidepressants, therapies, electro and magnetic brain stimulation, ketamine, and more -- depression is the single most disabling illness in the world.
Mitochondria regulate metabolism and therefore mental health. They respond to bio-psycho-social factors. This means it is not about just genes or chemicals. Stress, social conditions, and trauma affect cellular metabolism and disrupt brain energy function.
To restore brain health, normalize metabolism. Use diet (usually ketogenic or similar) and exercise (Zone 2 cardio is great). You also must limit drugs/alcohol, reduce stress, seek therapy for trauma/afflictive mental patterns, improve sleep, and all of this often occurs while weening off of pharmaceuticals.
The ketogenic diet has been shown to work for epilepsy and schizophrenia.
Through Forests of Every Color by Joan Sutherland
READ IF you’re interested in a meditative change up on your normal reading content. This book is more of an artistic and contemplative experience than a “read and learn” type thing.
The Zen tradition of Buddhism uses the koan — sort of a riddle that is meant to evoke a change in your orientation towards your experience. Practicing with these phrases helps draw you into a more intimate experience of life. Examples:
What is this? Who am I?
What is the heart-mind of a Buddha? Flowering groves. Forests of every color.
Nothing will do. What do you do?
In the dark, darken further.
It’s like a donkey staring at a post. What would you say? It’s like a post staring at a donkey.
More than figuring it out - it’s about being with and experiencing fully. That applies to koans and to life.
Words are just words. Ideas are just ideas. They are pointing towards a reality that is far behind concepts.
Logic has its limits.
The Full Body Yes by Scott Shute
READ IF - You’re interested in a personal account of how someone rose to the executive level at LinkedIn while staying true to their creative and personal passions.
To quote the title of a different book - “the body keeps the score”. If you stay with life’s big questions, you will often feel what the right future is through your body. What’s more, it’s not acceptable to tolerate a boring and lifeless workplace (for yourself or for others) — authentic engagement and compassion will elevate your working life and that of your organization.
If you have a personal passion make it real in some small way in your workplace and see what happens.
With great power comes great responsibility — businesses have a duty to improve the world, yes, because it’s the right thing to do.
Compassion is essential to leadership.
Rewilding by Micah Mortali
A disconnect from nature is a disconnect from our nature. What we really want is to get out of world of abstraction and mental over-stimulation and back into the embodied experience of interwovenness with the natural world. Rewilding — reconnecting with the more than human world — is the cure for what’s ailing us. Modern life doesn not allow for recovery and refreshing of our nervous system. We can see in ourselves the “Shamu in the Tank” effect — in reference to the killer whale trapped at sea world that committed suicide by repeatedly throwing itself against its enclosure.
Go sit outside in the woods for a few minutes and see what happens.
Walking slowly, barefoot on the earth is a great way to bring you back to your senses.
The main source of existential dread and mental disturbance plaguing us modern humans is likely a sort of species loneliness. We feel lifeless because we have cut ourselves off from the life force and vitality of the natural world.
We are not in nature - we are a part of nature. We are nature.
The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer
READ IF you want a mind-blowing autobiography that will make you have a deeper faith in the flow of life’s events.
This book is the autobiography of Michael Singer (founded a billion dollar medical software firm and became one of the world’s most recognized spiritual teachers with The Untethered Soul). He details how he was basically a full time yogi and spiritual seeker as a college kid but, as he progressed through his spiritual practices,
he realized the ultimate practice was saying “yes” to life. His wholehearted engagement and trust in the forces of life led him on a wild adventure to professional success and near ruin. Ultimately, life itself is the spiritual practice.
If you build it, they will come.
Life itself is the teacher.
There is a voice in your and my head that is always chattering and carrying on and worrying. Spiritual practice is to become intimate with and slowly let quiet this inner disturbance.
You must give up the life you had planned to accept the one that is waiting for you.
A Joseph Campbell Companion by Joseph Campbell and Diane Osbon
READ IF you’re interested in a profound expansion of your spiritual life and engagement with the human experience.
One of the best collection of life essays I’ve ever read. There is no meaning of life - only the experience of being alive. The journey of your life is to become who you are. All myths and religions are metaphors pointing towards the truth of the human experience. You bring the metaphors to life, through life.
An American professor spoke to a Shinto priest in Japan. He said, “I really don’t think I understand the philosophy and theology of your tradition”. And the priest said, “I don’t think we have philosophy and theology. We just dance.”
Heaven and hell exist right here, right now as psychological states. When we see the world through duality - of subjective pairs of opposites like good v evil, right v wrong, then we swing between feelings of heaven and hell.
As a young person you are a camel - you load up this big burden and go out into the desert. In the desert you encounter a dragon - on every scale is written “thou shalt”. And upon seeing the dragon you transform into a lion - the bigger the burden, the stronger the lion. The lion kills the dragon and returns from the desert as the child. What is happening here? Well like any myth or religion you have to consider that the symbols are pointing beyond themselves to something more. The camel is the young person taking on the norms, rules, and expectations of society. Then, you see the dragon. I hinted at this when I said on every scale is written “thou shalt”. You shall do this or do that: that’s conditioning from society and your upbringing. So you kill the dragon of duty (of thou shalts). And you become free, authentic, and true to yourself: the child.
What you have to do, you do with play.
Wisdom and foolishness are practically the same, both are indifferent to the opinions of the world.
All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable and so they will always be. If you really want to help this world, what you will have to teach is how to live in it. And that, no one can do who has not himself learned how to live in it - in the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy of the knowledge of life as it is.
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Your happiness nerd,